“I used to be a vegetarian, but then started eating meat.” I hear this phrase almost daily. Most people have no idea how to eat a nutritionally balanced vegetarian or vegan diet and 75% of vegetarians revert to eating meat. If your take on vegetarianism is taking an average diet and simply cutting the meat out, you are likely to be hungry and overriden by food cravings. You will become what is known as a “cookie-tarian”: someone who is nutritionally deficient and eats a lot of chocolate, pastries and, well, cookies.
All of us know that “cookie-tarianism” is not the best way to eat. So, what would be an example of a nutritionally balanced vegan meal? As a side note, you don’t need to be a vegan to enjoy one. When I start explaining the “how-to,” substitute where it says “protein,” for “a small portion of meat.” This way, you will get a perfectly balanced meal, period. Who cares if it’s vegan? It will help you live longer and have a better quality of life.
A balanced meal does not leave you hungry or craving sweets or snacks. It includes all six major flavors: salty, sweet, sour, bitter, pungent and astringent. It includes a variety of colors. It includes a vegan protein. It includes at least two vegetables and a whole grain.
Did I just confuse you more? Lets put this theory into your kitchen and simplify.
Firstly, lets do some homework, so that eating becomes fun, instead of the never-ending odyssey of counting calories and fat grams. Make a few lists of the foods you will eat as a vegan. Making lists could be a fun activity to do with your children, as it teaches them about healthy eating. Vegans eat primarily fruits, vegetables, legumes, grains, nuts and seeds. Non-vegans should eat the same plus organically raised meats, but it’s another story altogether.
Firstly, you need the flavor lists.
Make a list of all sweet vegetables ( yams, sweet potatoes, squash, carrots, etc..) Make a list of all bitter vegetables ( kale, green leafy vegetables.) Make a list of all salty vegetables (seaweeds.) Make a list of all pungent vegetables (garlic, onion, chili peppers.) Make a list of all astringent vegetables ( legumes, almost all raw vegetables.) Make a list of all sour foods (fermented foods, citrus juice.)
All grains are sweet. Nuts and seeds are generally sweet. Fruits, except for citrus fruits, are generally sweet.
Then, make a vegan protein list ( some grains, legumes, nuts and seeds.)
Lastly, make a whole grain list (millet, amaranth, teff, quinoa, barley, rye, quinoa, buckwheat, etc…)
Now, stick these lists to the fridge. Next time you are assembling your perfectly balanced vegan meal, use them. Remember that the perfectly balanced vegan meal contains all six flavors, a protein, a grain and at least two vegetables. Find an ingredient or two on each of your lists and make a plate. Teach your kids how to do it and they would love to have input into the family dinner.
If you put some sweet potato puree (sweet,) sauteed kale (bitter) with onions (pungent,) salted with seaweed powder ( salty,) some baked tempeh (sour, protein) a few cucumber slices (astringent,) quinoa (grain, protein,) on your plate and sprinkle the whole thing with almond pieces (protein) you got your vegan nutritional powerhouse right there. This meal would be full of vitamins, minerals and nutrients.
For a simpler balanced vegan meal, try a salad of vegetables in two-three different colors, sprinkled with lemon juice and olive oil. Add some canned chickpeas and some sunflower seeds to this salad. Include a bit of chives and some radishes. Serve it with a bowl of cooked buckwheat. Voila!
And no cookies needed.